"The government is forcing a form of censorship on us," says Adam Eidinger, co-owner of Capitol Hemp, a two-store chain in Washington, D.C. that is closing its doors for good on August 1, 2012. "They are saying you can't talk about certain subjects if you're going to sell pipes."
Capitol Hemp sells clothing and soaps and a vast array of glass and other types of pipes. Police raided Capitol Hemp last fall after an undercover cop reported "unnatural and deceptive" behavior at the company's Adams Morgan branch. What raised the cop's suspicions? According to the police report, employees corrected his use of the word bong and changed the subject whenever he brought up marijuana. The store's book selection, which included titles on drug legalization, was also cited as proof that the place was really a criminal enterprise.
Under current law, drug paraphernalia is illegal, even absent traces of verboten substances. But since anything—from rolling papers to apple cores to beer cans—can be used to smoke pot, federal prosecutors end up relying on "context" to determine when a pipe is just a lawful pipe and not a contraband bong.
The government seized over $300,000 of merchandise from Capitol Hemp. After the feds reduced the charges in such a way that a jury trial in federal court was not an option, Capitol Hemp agreed to a deal in which it will "voluntarily" shut down in exchange for the full return of its seized merchandise. When it reopened its doors after the raid, Capitol Hemp dutifully stripped its shelves of any books devoted to drug policy.
Eidinger and his partner aren't alone in feeling the heat from federal prosecutors. On May 10, 2012, federal agents raided the homes and stores of 14 hemp-and-head shop owners in Idaho, seizing water pipes, glasswork, and other wares they believe constitute "drug paraphernalia."
"The open sale of drug paraphernalia promotes unlawful drug use and helps drug traffickers thrive," announced U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson, who was appointed by Barack Obama, at a press conference about the raids.
If such raids are reminiscent of similar actions under George W. Bush, that's because they are. Despite Obama drug czar Gil Kerlikowske admitting that the country "cannot arrest its way out of the drug problem," the Obama administration is doing its damnedest to try. From increasing the number of raids on California's medical-marijuana dispensaries (which are legal under state law) to pushing for bans on sales of cold medicines, Obama is sadly revealing himself as "just another drug warrior" despite admitting to frequent use of illegal substances.
Sadder still: All this is happening as a record number of Americans – including even religious conservatives such as Pat Robertson – are voicing support for the legalization of marijuana.
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Produced by Joshua Swain. Written by Swain and Nick Gillespie; hosted by Kennedy.
For more on President Obama's disturbing record on the drug war, read "Bummer."
And for an in-depth analysis of how drug paraphernalia laws punish controversial speech, read "Bongs Away!"
For ReasonTV's playlist on drug and alcohol policy, go here.